Books and poetry

Here are some of my poems, revised during workshops at Sarah Lawrence College.   
"Dangerous Work" is about my father: Richard Cosgriffe,
shown here in happy times on a West Indies cruise, late 1980s


(In Memory of my father, Richard Cosgriffe, 1926-2005)

PASSING rows of newly baled hay
I hear your terror: “The word,” you say,
“I can’t remember.”  The word you can’t say
is hay, yet you say “painter -- was it Monet?”
Your hair glistens like gold, like hay, as we drive
Through the country, one last swing to Beehive,
Where you sprayed cattle from your plane.
“Dangerous work,” you often said. At Fireman’s Point,
We walk through the empty dance hall. “Some joint,”
You say, your old self for a moment. Then you play
“Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on the piano, badly flat.
We  two-step, you hum, twirl me, say “How about that?”
Outside again, returning to the hay, you startle us both.
“Like spaceships,” you say.  I nod. You are pleased.
Another word you can’t find is cow, yet with ease
you recall Charlie Russell, tell how he traded sketches
of range cattle for whisky at your father’s tavern.

“Tell me, please,” you say,  “Is my name Dick?”
You pause, the terror returns. “Or am I Olivia?”
You smile when you say my sister’s name,
No matter the context, always the same
Trusting, little-boy smile. When you can’t conjure
The word for airplane, as one passes overhead,
I turn to wipe my tears. You ask,  “Am I dead?”
And, oh, my pilot daddy, for a moment,  I dread
Telling you “no, you are alive.”  We hear a dove,
Watch it leave the fence, fly. “What is that?” you ask,
“Bird?”  You weep, struggle at the simple task
Daddy, (Richard E. Cosgriffe) far left, with his siblings:
twins Nancy and Mary and brother Harry (Cog) circa 1930.
Of finding a word. I imagine us all flying, young again,
seat-belted, happy family: you, mum, my siblings.
Still wet from the swimming pool, gleeful, excited
At our Sunday afternoon fly.  We soar above the land.
Bales of hay grow smaller, while cows graze
then shrink to dots against heavenly grass.
We view this canvas beneath the wings. Everything
Is the right shade.  “Don’t fence me in,” we sing together.


She learned it in a day, her instrument of choice.
We played string duets, quartets.  Her pride
Would not allow her to borrow, ask me for money.
When she sold it for a washing machine, I cried.

Peny's only daughter, Amarylla, and her daughter, Lucy, with Yorkie Nora.
This is a poem about the diaper service Peny hired for Amarylla
as a baby, with the money earned from selling her viola.
You can’t play a washer,” I thought I was funny,
But the song of that machine was her music.
It made her daughter’s diapers clean, freed her
to paint, sing, practice yoga, bake wild berry pies.
Her lost viola’s Mozart gave way to sunburned highs
On the California coast.  She drew, danced, sent art
worldwide, loved her daughter. My husband, intent
On buying her a used dryer, mailed her fifty-two dollars
in poker winnings.  She sewed him an ocean-blue shirt
with magenta trim.  He wrote a song for her. It sounded like lavender.
The viola spawned a symphony of letters, songs,
pies, poems. Another shirt, a pale green dryer.   
I think of them today, although they are gone;
hear their songs, their laughter.  It is fresh, fragrant, clean,
like laundry or a California morning.


Full moon at 4 a.m., jolted from dreams,
We three – Yorkies and I – rush to the screen,
watch a hungry black bear four feet away.  He sits
On the porch for his meal, more like a man in a bear suit
Than this wild, pungent creature.  I swear his legs are crossed.
He breaks off chokecherry branches.  Ferocious yet elegant,
He separates fruit from bark, pops the berries into his mouth, like bonbons.
I think of sad circus bears riding tricycles, dressed in pink tutus.
Bears in a German zoo, subdued in their pit while children threw peanuts
At their heads, pointed, laughed. My first Yellowstone Park bear,
filmed in eight millimeter, eating marshmallows tossed from the window
of a ’59 Pontiac. The Discovery Channel bear stunned with a dart,
relocated for looting campers’ backpacks.
Bears are frequent visitors "up country" at Nye, Montana.
The grizzly at Lake Louise, unearthing the haunch
Of a mountain goat buried the season before, left to ripen.
The bear in our driveway, shot through the head.  We cut him
Into pieces with a saw, buried him beneath a new pine.
Another bear killed because he killed, with human remains in his stomach.
But this wild feasting bear is our bear.
We catch his acrid smell as he stands to rip at a high branch.
He roars, returns to munching, a greedy snore-like sound.
My own breathing stills. The dogs stop barking.
Will he keep his distance? A mere screen separates us.
I am your friend, I whisper. You are welcome; don’t hurt us. 
He ignores us and to keep the Yorkies quiet, I ply them with treats.
Now all three critters eat. For 15 minutes, we three watch our bear,
our glorious, fragrant guest.  In the cooling pre-dawn of early autumn,
he moves about, breaking more branches, gorging on his meal.
When with a great belch, he moves away, I am sad to see him go.
Oh, he could tell stories.  But wait, he is not yet leaving.
He tramples through heather, lilies, detours to the garden,
Heaves open the gate, shattering the boards. 
He heads for the apple tree for the next course,
Eats until he is sated, moves up the draw.  I hear
Him jump on the metal lid of the artesian well,
Picture King Kong on the New York skyscraper.
Is bear beating his breast?  I hear a farewell roar.
It echoes down the canyon as he climbs the shale, 
up the hill into his cave, timing his trip’s end at the salmon edge
Of dawn.   We dogs and human return to sleep,
Dreaming, perhaps, three separate bear dreams.

Travels -- good-byes, send-offs, sail-ins, all make material for poems.


I sleep on your side, recalling:  Manhattan,
heart-shaped, king sized, marquee views.
Circular in Maui, pillowed jasmine, orchids.
Queen, Eiffel Tower view, in larger than life Paris,
practical bunks in China, yurts in Kazakhstan.
Cruising off Maine, our small windjammer cabin,
secret as an oyster bed. We dressed one at a time.
On the Amazon, we moved twin beds together
beneath mosquito nets.  (Our lesbian pals lounged
in the only king.) In Africa, we slept in a tree house,
awakened by howler monkeys.  In Bali, our bed
shimmered like a barong dancer. Lulled by spice,
sex, we fell like Icarus to dreams.  Zermatt duvet,
croissant crumbs, window cracked for cow bells.
County Cork’s rising damp, pleasant mildew.
That bed was never fully dry. We grew to like it.
Russian bed austere, practical, on coldest day
Of the Moscow year. Hissing heater, red blink
of a hallway camera we ducked to avoid. 
Snow covered the hotel, stopped traffic.
An Israeli accordionist, a French guitarist appeared.
We played borrowed flutes on that stark bed.
Bora Bora beds were best, resting on glass,
manta rays beneath, staring back as we gazed
through lightning, ordered champagne, moved
in sync while moonlight beckoned dawn.
Cruise beds, favorites. Breathing to waves, rocking, awakening to open shades to new ports.  Each night we died a little.  Beds were our plots, prepared for planting. We planned our life for 25 years.
How can you not be here, lying by me,
perfect spoons, tracing a map of the world,
finishing this list on my bedroom heart?


I COULD NOT do this if the sun weren’t shining.
After 22 months, I am packing up your hats.
My keeping them somehow avoided defining
The particulars of your passing, postponed that
reality. The box means you aren’t coming back.
I study them – seven – arranged on a quilt,
Remember each one on you.  The fishing
Hat, straw, with three flies on the brim.  Guilt
Overwhelms me as I take them off, wishing
Memories of Greek island trips are awakened in the writing of a poem. 
You standing here, tasting desire. You built
A swing in the Arizona Diamondbacks cap.
It is the colors of the desert you loved, where
We cherished 14 winters.  I picture you at nap,
Hands clasped as if in waiting, relaxed there
On the rose-colored Lazy Boy with Ruth, Ed
At your feet.  Your dogs, your dear friends.
On one Christmas card, we all wore hats. Your
Dogs, mine, the two of us.  Who knew the bends
In our river or how we would navigate them?
But always with your hats.  The white one -- Greek-- with blue sash-- did wedding duty.
Black felt was for
private parties. Sun
Faded, its wide bolero brim grown slack
In your absence.  I see you on the roof
In the “Forest Gump” cap. “Life is just
A box of chocolates,” you quoted. A spoof
Surely, this last trick of yours.  You must
Not be gone forever. Before at last I shut
the box, I notice one hat is missing. You
wore it at our wedding with a silk shirt, cut
a dashing figure. We stood in tropical dew
for our vows,  hoped for a miracle, knew
better.  I chose it for the cremation, your
Hawaiian wedding suit, hat to sandals. More
almost -- than wishing you back, I wonder
where these hats will land, who will wear
them next, to laugh, dance, dream, fish, dare.

My mother, with sister-in-law Jane, I in back left in
turquoise  scarf, at a reception honoring my arts advocacy.

In this collision of winter and spring,
my mother calls to ask for a lawn mower.
Snow on plum trees, white on gray.  Wings
of robins and chickadees cold from a shower
turned ice in space.  Sagging white sashes
droop pine and fir alike.  Mother and I
no longer argue.  I listen, feel your ashes
in the urn. I bury my hand, wonder why
you are gone at sixty and my mother, ill, eighty,
is asking for a lawn mower. “Love you, God bless,”
she says, when I agree.  She has weighty
requests about her own memorial, “I confess
I want a big, splashy party, music, no church.”
This confuses me -- she who blesses -- but I listen,
watch the blossoms I brought indoors. Turkeys lurch
down the hillside into the meadow, sunshine glistens
My mother, in her last year, with my brother Rick.
for the first time this Sunday.  I take a broom
to bending limbs. Except for the phone’s ring
It could be 1881, the year my cabin’s log room
Was built. I feel eternity as we talk. Birds sing,
my mother calls again, thanks me again for a trip,
a summer cruise around Europe.  She describes
each port with animation.  I touch my lips.
Your ashes are on my tongue, gritty, alive.
I will survive. Mum reads from her journal.  I sift
through the ashes with my no-phone hand.  “I love
my memories,” she  says. “The Opera House lifted me heavenward. Troldhaugen’s forest above Grieg’s composing hut in Bergen worked magic on my soul.  You gave me a gift so great…”
I'm with my mum, Ellen, right, and my adopted "Hannamama"
(Hannelore Carter.)  Both Hanna and mum are gone, now.
THE PHONE is quiet, her voice returns.  “No tragic wish-we-had-dones for us.”  We looked fate in the eye, took on heart failure, convinced frantic friends that she could sail into Cobn, where her great-grandmother departed, not on the Titanic but another ship, name forgotten.  Sheer will, the doctors said, helped her thrive
for three weeks, touring haunts heard
of since childhood. The cobblestone alive
under her feet, she said.  “It was weird
to think they walked those same streets. I felt
their spirit.” In her favorite photo, just
minutes before we embarked, she knelt
to kiss the ground. “I am ready to be dust.”

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful, loving, sorrowful time you have jut given me! Love--Nancy E.